At Tuesday's Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the Cable Act, former Republican committee member Gordon Smith and current chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) agreed that consumers should get a refund when they lose access to channels during retrans impasses.
In his testimony for the hearing, Smith, now president of the National Association of Broadcasters, offered a three-step solution to easing the impact of impasses on consumers. "First, we urge the FCC to insist that pay TV providers give viewers ample notice of a possible disruption in service; second, the FCC should allow customers to easily switch among competing pay TV providers, without incurring financial penalties, and also receive refunds when stations are unavailable; third, we could do a better job as broadcasters by educating consumers about the availability of free over-the-air television."
Rockefeller thanked him for his interest in refunds, which came as no surprise since he had been first to raise the issue at the hearing. "When consumers lose channels in these corporate disputes, they should get a refund."
Another top Democrat, Communications Subcommittee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), was in agreement with Smith on the importance of local broadcasting. Kerry said that one of the Cable Act's goals was to preserve local broadcasting, something he said he wants to do.
That was in sharp contrast to witness Mark Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America, who called exclusive broadcast licenses an original sin, and said broadcasters needed to be moved out of the way in favor of unlicensed uses of their spectrum.